After weeks of wrangling, the Paycheck Fairness Act will finally reach the Senate floor today, where it's likely to face strong opposition from Republicans. Democratic supporters, however, are investing quite a bit of energy into the proposal.
Yesterday, for example, the White House organized a conference call on the legislation, and President Obama made a surprise appearance, touting not only his support for the bill, but also explaining its significance.
Mitt Romney, meanwhile, true to form, refuses to take a position on the bill. When we asked the Romney campaign for its stance, a spokesperson said the Republican candidate supports the concept of equal pay for equal work, but despite repeated requests, Romney's aide would not say whether he supports or opposes the proposal.
No Profile in Courage Award for you, gov.
So, does the bill have any chance at all? The last time the Paycheck Fairness Act reached the Senate floor, two years ago, it garnered 58 votes, which, thanks to the way the modern Senate operates, means the bill failed. The chamber's GOP "moderates" -- Scott Brown, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe -- all joined the filibuster that killed the bill.
Two years later, the Democratic majority has shrunk considerably, but hope springs eternal.
On one conference call, the bill's chief sponsor Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said she's hopeful Republicans will peel away and help break a filibuster, but declined to say whether any GOP votes had been locked down.
"I'm not at liberty to go into that," Mikulski said.
Mikulski will need to find seven Republicans willing to give the bill an up-or-down vote, which appears to be a very tall order given how far the GOP Senate caucus has moved to the right.
For those unfamiliar with the substance behind the legislation, the bill would "enhance the remedies available for victims of gender-based discrimination and require employers to show that wage differences are job-related, not sex-based, and driven by business necessity. The measure would also protect employees from retaliation for sharing salary information, which is important for deterring and challenging discriminatory compensation.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which we discussed with Ledbetter herself last night, was an important step forward when it comes to combating discrimination, but it was also narrowly focused to address a specific problem: giving victims of discrimination access to the courts for legal redress. The Paycheck Fairness Act is a broader measure.
With women still only making 77 cents for every dollar men earn in similar jobs, the question may soon become why so many Republicans, including their presidential candidate, seem indifferent to the problem.
Postscript: As a simple matter of election-year strategy, I have no idea why every Senate Republican doesn't simply vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act and then let the GOP-led House kill it.